Short Fiction: A Party for Blake
“Let’s go!” Tina shouted down the hallway. At its end, in a room smelling of stale smoke, Blake sulked. “How can these things keep happening every weekend? Doesn’t anyone get tired of it?” He whined. His voice had a nasal tinge to it, and it frequently expressed high-pitched verbosity. He liked to complain. Incense, jazz music, and an eclectic taste in books were his only interests – he disdained society, but as always, it was of a secret fear that society disdained him. Just as the weekly parties he so despised had occurred as long as anyone in his second-rate college town could remember, so also would the weekly tug-of-war occur with his housemates. He gave in occasionally, allowing society (rather, himself) another chance – but only after loudly and dramatically registering his opinion on the matter.
“I mean, look – it’s not like these are all totally different affairs. Once you’ve been to a few you can say with some honesty that you’ve been to ’em all. The same people go every weekend. It’s always at one of the same two or three houses. The activities are always the same – beer pong, or dancing to vastly inferior music. It’s hot. It’s crowded. I’ve been to a few of these soirees where I was jammed against a sweating obesity for like ten minutes. And yet we subject ourselves to this, week in, week out. I tell you what, I’ve been reading Solzhenitsyn, and this is exactly how he describes the overcrowded Soviet transit prisons. And did you know that the CIA torture handbook advises subjecting to prisoners to a dark room with loud, garrulous music, and then they pump the prisoner full of disorienting drugs? How is that different from what we’re doing? Also -”
“We’re leaving right now.” Tina cut him off. “Are you coming or not?”
Blake heaved a sigh. “Fine.” He put out the smoldering cone on his desk.
Two others joined as they left the house: Joy, a vacuous waif who was taking her degree in psychology, and Theodore, a brash young business major who might have done better at a fraternity. Some people liked him, others merely tolerated. He was, as they say, “an alright guy when you got to know him.”
The air was cold as they filed out of the house. They lived a few blocks outside of the main student housing, and could hear the distant roar of voices and music.
“It’s hopping tonight!” Tina said. “I bet there’s a party every other house.”
Conversation shifted naturally, as it always did, to last weekend’s festivities: who was there, who wasn’t, who got laid, who got too drunk, etc.
Theodore laughed. “Did you hear Joanna got so drunk she broke a table? The stupid bitch.” One always had to swallow their admonitions when Theodore expressed misogyny. Some of his more sensitive acquaintances had chided his lack of tact, but the result was always an argument from which Theodore refused to learn anything. Most had learned to let the matter drop.
“Yeah, I’m going to get some tonight.” Theodore continued, mostly to fill the silence. “Just watch and learn.” He grinned to Blake, who shuffled silently, watching his shoes. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll pick something up.”
“That’ll be the day”, Blake said dejectedly. He had complex feelings on the matter. On one hand he despised Theodore: his limited world-view, his pea brain. On the other, Theodore could win the affection of females, something which Blake certainly could not do. Theodore: the simpleton, the ignoramus, who had precisely nothing to teach Blake – except that.
“How far away is this party?” Joy piped. “Are we even close?”
“Just two blocks then a left,” Tina answered. “Theodore – shut up.”
“You shut up!” He returned, for lack of a clever retort.
They entered the student ghetto. What a drastic difference two blocks can make! Three adjacent avenues held the entirety of the town’s festivities. The parties lined the street, spilling into it from both sides. The air buzzed with a deafening roar.
Blake felt momentarily dizzy. The thousands of students, all with watery beer in their hands, standing in the road with those stupid grins of theirs! Had they honestly nothing better to do? Couples kissed messily in front of every party. They may as well be licking each other’s faces! Blake thought with a shudder. At least they have the decency not to openly fornicate!
This was precisely the aspect of these events Blake hated the most: the open sexuality of it all! His own troubles attracting a mate were bad enough – must there be insult as well? Every couple was a horrible reminder his own failures. He was a nice enough fellow; he respected women – so much so, in fact, that at the slightest hint of disinterest he would cease all contact and hide. He thought of Theodore, who he knew incapable of such shame.
They had arrived. Joy stepped around a young man vomiting in the patron’s front yard. It was as Blake expected. The party was not the most crowded he had seen, but it surely came close. Blake estimated a density of at least two persons per square meter. He and companions had appeared after midnight, usually the crest of these events. The drunkenness, as such, had reached a level such that any semblance of inhibition had long since been abandoned. The heat was stifling, and added extra offense to the pungent odor of sweat and urine.
The main hallways were lined with pockets of idle students, loudly chatting between sips of beer. Their state of intoxication limited conversation to a series of misunderstandings, which were no doubt aided by the general noise. One frequently caught snatches of “No, no, no…” or “Wait, wait, that’s not what I meant”. This party took place on the eve of the 2008 election, lending a political tone to discourse which would likely have otherwise centered around sports or university rivalries.
“Yeah, fuck McCain”, Blake overheard as his group marched single-file to the dance room. “Fuck Republicans.” The crude sentiment reflected the general political views of the student body. A fortunate point of agreement, as not one in the room would have been able to enumerate Senator Obama’s positive attributes if asked.
The others went ahead as Blake took some time to observe. The linoleum floor was lined with a thin layer of spilled beer, sloshed from the swaying red cups. All around Blake a hundred conversations simultaneously occurred; each, Blake was sure, regarding matters of zero consequence. The extent of the hedonism he saw left him sickened and disgusted. Had these people genuinely no further cares than getting drunk and excreting their pathetic sexual juices? In a college town, no less! Had they not the slightest interest in the world beyond a series of empty, fleeting pleasures? As if in response, Blake heard a large belch from somewhere in the vicinity of the keg. A surging crowd, similar in fervor to that of a bread queue, surrounded it. 30 cups extended all around the poor operator, some shaking with visible impatience. Shoving matches sometimes erupted from a disagreement over who was next in line. Blake considered a drink, then thought the better of it. He despised being intoxicated: the dizziness, the cognitive impairment, the slurred speech.
He descended to the basement, where a bass-heavy, common-time beat fueled the gyrations of 350 boys and girls. Blake felt as though he had entered an oven. The room was dark, illuminated only by a strobe-light which halved Blake’s ocular frame rate. As one would view a flip-book, Blake saw the wild, jerky movements of his classmates. Instinctively, he gravitated toward a wall – it was cooler there, less crowded, and it afforded a better vantage from which to observe the bacchanalia before him. He thought of the word “wallflower.”
In the middle of the floor a thick mass of students stood writhing. Their density decreased as one radiated outward to the exit, through which there flowed a constant stream of people. Blake thought back to the 20th century, when dancing was formal and defined. There was order then: steps to learn, moves to follow. The contrast amused him.
Students danced in a group, in couples, or more rarely, alone. The “dance” was whatever they wished to make it. Some contented themselves with slowly bending their needs to the rhythm, some swung their arms, others jogged around. Friends danced in a circle, couples danced alone. The raw sexuality of the couples transfixed and disgusted Blake. The males would position themselves behind their partner, press their pelvis to her posterior, and swivel their hips. From behind, they would then use his hands to search his partner’s body – much in the manner of a lengthy police frisking. Blake saw Theodore undertaking such a procedure somewhere in the crowd.
Blake grew more horrified each moment. These people are crazed! He thought to himself. Are they taking extra hormones or something? What is it that makes people behave like this? Here they are – they have everything they could want in the world, they have the power to make it better, but look how they spend themselves!
Thoroughly depressed, he moved to leave when from out of the mass a beautiful, barely dressed young woman approached him.
“Why aren’t you dancing!” she shouted over the music.
“I don’t dance.” Blake answered.
“Oh, come on, everyone dances!” she said.
“Not me.” said Blake.
“Well, I was going to ask you to dance with me, but if that’s how you feel…”
This certainly had never happened before. Blake was at a loss.
“Well, I…. I can’t.” Blake stammered. “My f-friends… outside…” He bolted.
One outside he berated himself. Why did I do that? Here she was, the chance I was hoping for, and I turned it down! Blake thought to himself. He searched for the reason, and settled upon this: Anyone whom he would wish to meet would not participate in such a dreadful affair, would not regard it with such enthusiasm to actually dance, and surely would not suggest he do the same. So it’s better this way.
It began to snow. Blake turned to leave. A girl sat near his path. He made one last attempt.
“Why do people go to these things?” Blake asked her.
“Well, for many reasons, I think.” she answered, “I mean, look around you. People are acting in ways you’d never see them act. Nowhere but here. Everyone’s drunk. Inhibitions and memories run low on ethanol. You can do what want, and most people either won’t remember or won’t care.”
“That’s it? Just so they can make fools of themselves once a week?”
“It’s not just that” she continued, “I mean, you saw the dance floor. People are lonely.”
“Here? In a college town?” Blake refused to believe it.
“Yes here. You can be lonely in a big city, you can be lonely here. It’s in the mind – everyone’s mind, apparently. So every week you get to come to a house, get drunk, meet a lot of people you’ll probably never see again, maybe find someone to warm your bed, and then get up tomorrow and live your regular boring life.”
“But wouldn’t it be better if these energies were devoted to more positive ends?” Blake asked. “I mean, we’re young, we’re educated, aren’t there things we should be worried about? Isn’t it wrong to roll about in excess when there is so much suffering in the world?”
“You’re talking about world problems, changing the world?” the girl mocked. “Nobody cares about that. We just want to have a good time. These things going on, Africa, Iraq – as long as they don’t affect us, how do they matter? A lot of people don’t want to worry about the world outside of them. They’ve got enough problems inside.”
“You’re right.” Blake said. “Is there a solution?”
The girl grinned.
“Yeah, there’s a solution!” she said. “Shut up and enjoy! These problems will never affect us, and none of us are really going to solve them anyway. So just forget about it!”
Blake considered the advice, then shuddered.
Theodore found someone to go home with that night.